Tag Archives: pharmaceutical advertising

In China, pharma hires thousands of doctors to sell drugs

Bloomberg News reports that pharmaceutical companies in China are poaching thousands of trained physicians, many of them recent grads, to become sales representatives in the massive push to take advantage of China’s exploding drug market. The companies can offer salaries that are two to three times those the physicians would earn otherwise, and Bloomberg’s sources estimate that as many as 14,000 more Chinese doctors will become marketers in the coming five years.

The hiring boom is hampering China’s three-year, $131 billion effort to stem a massive shortage of doctors in rural and peripheral areas and provide basic health insurance to at least 90 percent of the population. Paradoxically, it’s that same push, and the demand for drugs that it has created, that’s providing the incentive for big pharma’s Chinese campaigns. One pharmaceutical representative told Bloomberg that China is expected to overtake the United States as his company’s largest market within the decade, and companies have been budgeting accordingly.

Foreign drugmakers like Sanofi and their local affiliates will hire at least 35,000 sales staff by the end of 2014, Aon Hewitt China estimates, based on a survey of 24 companies. The same employers had 33,000 on staff at the end of 2010. About 30 to 40 percent of people recruited for sales jobs will have a medical degree, said Jarroad Zhang, a consulting director with Aon Hewitt in Shanghai.

Ex-pharma rep talks about pressure, tactics to sell

A story reported and produced by Gerri Shaftel at KTTV-Los Angeles (and presented by Christine Devine) gives viewers a look into the world of pharmaceutical representatives, a world of former beauty queens and long lists of off-label uses and side effects.

It’s based around a former pharmaceutical rep and cheerleader named Jennifer Shaw, and opens with the standard portrait of reps as former models with short skirts and even shorter scientific résumés, but also goes into how reps get the information about doctors’ prescribing habits.

Confessions Of A Pharmaceutical Rep: MyFoxLA.com

Over the course of the story, viewers learn how pharmaceutical companies track every prescription a doctor writes, press doctors to raise specific prescription numbers, and rank physicians on a scale of 1 to 100, then reward them accordingly with speaking engagements and the like. Even Jennifer, the rep turned tell-all author, has a compelling story about how she left the industry when her company pushed her to sell a reformulated drug despite the alarming side effects that were cropping up along her sales route.

It may come in a fancy package, but it’s wholesome stuff.

Australian journal says no to pharma ads

Emergency Medicine Australasia, an Australia-based medical journal, has declared that it will no longer accept paid advertisements from pharmaceutical companies.

ozImage by acediscovery via Flickr

The journal’s editors announced their decision in an editorial, and we learned about it from Pharmalot’s Ed Silverman. In the editorial, the editors say they’re drawing a line in the sand and all but dare other publications to join them. Here’s Silverman with the how-and-why:

The ban followed discussions with other emergency medicine specialists, who worried aloud that advertised drugs were supported by evidence that was neither “of reasonable quality, nor independent.” There were cases of “dubious and unethical” research practices by pharma, including ghostwriting. And academics may face pressure to withhold negative research, which could “inflate views of the efficacy” of heavily promoted drugs.

For more, refer to this AAP story. In this case, the acronym refers to the Australian Associated Press, not the physician group. In Australia, medical journals are one of the only places where pharmaceutical advertising is legal.

BMJ exposes UK drugmaker’s astroturf attempt

Pharmalot blogger Ed Silverman reports that, had they not been exposed by BMJ, the UK pharmaceutical company Norgine probably would have gotten away with quietly organizing doctors and patient groups to submit a letter to The Times protesting a government plan to require substituting generic drugs for brand-name ones where applicable. Norgine’s name appeared nowhere on the letter, which was written by a PR firm they’d hired. Furthermore, several patient groups which signed the letter also received funding from pharmaceutical companies.

In the end though, Silverman writes, Norgine came away from the incident pretty well, considering the outcry over their stunt.

Norgine may have had the last laugh, however. Apart from being lambasted publicly for being a secretive and manipulative company, the drugmaker issued a celebratory press release earlier this month trumpeting the decision by the government to scrap the proposed automatic generic substitution plan.


For more European health news, see AHCJ’s Covering Europe initiative.

ProPublica investigates pharma payments to doctors

ProPublica’s massive investigation into the hefty fees pharmaceutical companies have paid doctors with dubious track records stamps an exclamation point on what has been a banner year for high-profile assaults on pharma-paid physician/marketers.

Books like Daniel Carlat’s Unhinged and Carl Elliot’s White Coat, Black Hat, and the promotional tours that came with them, led the charge and raised awareness of an issue that reporters Charles Ornstein (you may know him as AHCJ’s president), Tracy Weber and Dan Nguyen have driven home with tens of thousands of carefully researched data points and one flagship story.

The ProPublica database is built upon the voluntary disclosures of seven drug manufacturers (Eli Lilly, Cephalon, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co. and Pfizer) which represent about 36 percent of the market. Reform law requires the other manufacturers to make similar disclosures by 2013. The package uncovered a bucket of horror stories — that mug shot of high-earner Dr. Donald Ray Taylor next to the paragraph describing why he was disciplined is the very definition of “disturbing” — yet also distinguished itself by giving doctors who rep pharma the opportunity to explain both their work and their motivation.

In its examination of pharma payments, the investigation goes beyond a simple database match with disciplinary records. Some physician/marketers had clearly earned their stripes and displayed impressive resumes and relevant research records, the reporters found, but others had disciplinary records, lacked any board certification or publications or appeared to have been manufactured by the drug-makers themselves.

“It’s sort of like American Idol,” said sociologist Susan Chimonas, who studies doctor-pharma relationships at the Institute on Medicine as a Profession in New York City.

“Nobody will have necessarily heard of you before — but after you’ve been around the country speaking 100 times a year, people will begin to know your name and think, ‘This guy is important.’ It creates an opinion leader who wasn’t necessarily an expert before.”

If you can’t get enough of the investigation, see the work by ProPublica’s partners at The Boston Globe, Consumer Reports, the Chicago Tribune, Nightly Business Report and NPR.

Finally, don’t miss the comments on the article, headlined by a lengthy response from the leading pharmaceutical industry group.